Chiefs chairmain Clark Hunt spoke at length at the Super Bowl on Friday about a number of topics, most notable his desire to retain the services of coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey. But he also spoke on a number of things, including the following:
▪ Hunt was asked directly if he wants to keep safety Eric Berry, who told The Star on Thursday that he will sit out the season if he is franchise-tagged without a long-term contract in place by the July 15 deadline.
“Absolutely — I can’t speak highly enough about Eric,” said Hunt, who said he wants Berry to retire as a Chief. “The person he is, the football player he is, the leader. He’s a source of inspiration. His role for the team in 2016, what he meant to the team and the leadership he provided, we certainly want Eric back.”
Hunt was also asked if the Chiefs want to retain 26-year-old nose tackle Dontari Poe, a two-time Pro Bowler who, like Berry, is a former a first-round pick of the Chiefs.
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“I’ll just say generically, with all the guys we drafted, we want them all back,” Hunt said. “That’s got to be balanced, at some point, with the cap. It’s truly a dynamic process as we go through it, but I certainly hope Dontari is back with us this year.”
The Chiefs are currently projected to have $4.1 million in cap room according to OverTheCap, though some moves can be made to open up some space.
Hunt was then asked if he’s “good” with the team’s cap situation.
“You’re never ‘good’ with it,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s part of it that makes it exciting, and part of the challenge every year is managing your cap. We’re in good enough shape to do what we need to do.”
▪ Hunt is aware that the Chiefs have not selected quarterback in the first round of the draft since Todd Blackledge in 1983, so by proxy, Hunt also understands why some fans might think the club won’t go that route, though he contends that’s not necessarily the case.
“If you’ve been a fan of the franchise for a long time, they haven’t seen us take a first-round quarterback and have him develop into a franchise player, and it’s been a while since we’ve taken a quarterback that high,” Hunt said. “Philosophically, there’s nothing against taking a first-round quarterback, and I think you can look at Andy (Reid) and John (Dorsey’s) history and see that they’ve done that.”
▪ Reid told The Star during the Pro Bowl last week that Alex Smith, who has compiled an impressive 41-20 record the last four seasons, will again be his quarterback in 2017.
Though Smith’s passer rating ranked 16th in the NFL this season, Hunt said he was pleased with Smith’s performance.
“I thought Alex did a great job for us this year,” Hunt said. “Obviously when you have the success we had, a large part of it can be attributed to his play. He played a crucial role in a number of those games that I mentioned where we came back from big deficits. That was really something we’ve not done in recent history, and I thought that was an area of growth for the team, and also for Alex.”
Although Smith had an unorthodox sort of “head trauma” in October and the NFLPA is currently looking into the way the club handled Chris Conley’s concussion evaluation in the Chiefs’ playoff loss, Hunt said he was happy with the way the Chiefs handled their concussion protocols this year.
“I think we did it to the best of our ability, and I don’t have any concerns about the way we handled the concussion issues this year,” Hunt said.
Hunt said he also does not have any concerns about the way three Chiefs who had ACL surgeries during or after the 2015 season — outside linebacker Justin Houston, running back Jamaal Charles and cornerback Phillip Gaines — all had ongoing knee issues this year that kept them out of the lineup for various stints.
“I don’t think there was anything specific going on ... all three of them just had a struggle getting back on the field,” Hunt said.
“Part of that is certain people take longer to heal from those injuries that others. Occasionally you’ll see somebody who has had an ACL injury and they’re back playing after six or seven months. That’s atypical. More often than not, it’s a year plus, and I’d expect all three of them to be much better next year.”
▪ Hunt was asked how the Chiefs plan on absorbing the loss of director of football operations Chris Ballard, who took the Indianapolis Colts’ general manager job on Sunday.
“When you build a successful team, it goes without saying that you’re eventually going to lose some of your top people,” Hunt said. “You saw that last year with Doug Pederson going to the Eagles and this year with Chris going to Indianapolis. ... He obviously found a very good situation in Indianapolis.
“We’re sad to lose him but that’s just part of the business. We have a great staff, and John and I have already talked about it — he feels that we’ll be in great shape going into the draft this year.”
▪ Hunt confirmed that after their 45-10 win over the Detroit Lions in London last year, the Chiefs won’t be asked to give up a home game to play overseas anytime soon, though they do have interest in going overseas as the road team.
“We would be open to playing an away game if the league asked — that would be a pretty easy thing for us to do, whether it’s Mexico City or London or somewhere else,” Hunt said. “We’re way down the list in terms of a home game.”
▪ Hunt said he doesn’t know when the NFL will again make the decision to bring the Super Bowl to a cold weather, outdoor city (it is in Minnesota next year). But he remains very interested in bringing the big game to Kansas City.
“If the NFL makes the decision to take the Super Bowl to an outdoor, cold-weather stadium, we’ll be in the mix for it,” Hunt said. “We will go aggressively after it.”
Hunt has said in the past that having the appropriate number of hotel rooms is an obstacle to Kansas City, but he did not have an update on the progress the city has made on that front.
▪ Hunt said the Chiefs have 14 years remaining on their lease at Arrowhead Stadium, in addition to a pair of five-year club options at the end of that. Hunt said meaningful talks about extending the lease typically don’t begin until there are five to seven years remaining on the current one, meaning there won’t be more tangible discussions about that subject until roughly 2024 at the earliest.
The Chiefs completed a $375 million renovation to Arrowhead Stadium in 2010, and in recent years Clark has consistently maintained that he’s happy with the club’s gameday home. He did so again on Friday, while also noting that with the blue-chip stadiums that are being built across the league, the Chiefs will eventually need to upgrade Arrowhead again at some point far down the road.
“It is a very competitive league, specifically from a stadium standpoint, and you can look at the buildings being built in Atlanta, the ones just built in Minneapolis, the new stadium going up in L.A.— they just continue to raise the bar,” Hunt said.
“It’s quite possible that during the balance of our lease, we’ll do something not on the scale of what we did last time, but take some areas and change them and make them more fan friendly.”
▪ On if the Chiefs, who have already retired 10 numbers — the fourth most in the league behind the Bears (14), Giants (12) and 49ers (12) — will continue to retire more numbers in the future:
“We’re open to retiring more jerseys but have to be very, very selective with it,” Hunt said. “... We realized a number of years ago that the pace we were at, at some point we were going to have guys wearing double zero and that just wasn’t going to work,” Hunt said with a laugh. “We were running out of numbers.”
The Chiefs, for example, allowed tight end Ross Travis to wear Tony Gonzalez’s No. 88 this year, citing a numbers crunch. Gonzalez, who will go down as one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history, is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019.
▪ On if he’d ever okay some out-of-the-box uniform designs:
“I don’t want to say never,” Hunt said. “We are one of the few franchises whose uniform has essentially not changed all the way back to the founding of the franchise, and I think there’s something special about that because it’s different.”